Belgium is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The increase in population after the Second World War has been slower in Wallonia than in Flanders, but the difference between the two areas is now insignificant. The Flemish countries make up 3/5 of the population, the Wallons 2/5.
In 2019, the proportion of urban population was 98 per cent, but the concept of “urbanization”, that is to say that rural and urban areas develop simultaneously and intertwine, can be widely applied to Belgium. The largest cities are Antwerp (520,500 residents in 2017) and Ghent (259,100). Brussels had 176,500 residents in the city itself, while the metropolitan area had 1.2 million.
According to Countryaah, Belgium has three official languages, which are also spoken languages for the overwhelming majority of the population, albeit sometimes in the form of strongly deviating dialects from the standard languages: French (about 40% of the population), Dutch (about 60%) and German (less than 1 %). The country is divided into four language regions. Three are monolingual: Flanders (Dutch), Wallonia (French) and the German-speaking region in the far east. The fourth, the metropolitan region, is bilingual (French and Dutch). The population of the capital Brussels is up to 3/4 French-speaking.
Among the numerous immigrant languages are Italian, Moroccan Arabic, Turkish and Greek. “Flemish” is now mainly used as a term for the dialects in Flanders, while the standard language is called Dutch.
About 90% of the population are Roman Catholics. The largest among the other groups are the Protestants with about 100,000 members. Through immigration, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism have increased since the 1960s.
The 1831 Constitution guarantees religious freedom. Officials received Catholics, Protestants and Jews, later Anglicans (1870) and Muslims (1974). The first mosque was built in Brussels in 1969. Around 1940 there were about 85,000 Jews, but the number was halved during the Second World War.
There is no statutory state religion and nothing concorded with the Vatican. Church and state are legally separate. In practice, however, there is close cooperation between the dominant Roman Catholic church and the state. This is evident in schools, universities, hospitals and unions. The position of the church is strongest in the French-speaking part, weaker in the Dutch-speaking.
After the liberation, the political life in Belgium was taken up by the deal with the co-workers and the question of what would happen to King Leopold. He was criticized for the decision to capitulate and for not distancing himself from the occupation regime strongly enough. Despite the support of Catholics and Flemish, the criticism became too strong, and in 1951 Leopold abdicated in favor of his son Baudouin.
Another problem was Congo (Kinshasa). There was opposition in Belgium to granting the colony independence, given its rich mineral resources. When Congo became an independent state in 1960, this development was not prepared. The Belgians’ continued intervention in the country led Belgium in opposition to the UN and the African states and increased the economic problems in the country.
A distinctive feature of post-war economic development in Belgium has been the problems related to the transition from an older, crisis-hit industrial structure, based on coal and iron production. Wallonia has been particularly hard hit, while the relatively late industrialized Flanders has had a more positive development with extensive new investments. The economic difficulties have at times created a breeding ground for social unrest and during the last decade for terrorist actions by smaller groups.
However, the dominant domestic political issue during the post-war period has concerned the position of the language groups. The language limit was fixed in 1962–63. Flanders and Wallonia became monolingual areas while the Brussels area, located in the Flemish region, became bilingual. This meant no solution. There was a strong concern in Wallonia and Brussels about what was perceived as a threatening Flemish dominance based on the fact that the Flemish people constituted a majority of the population and on the rapid economic development in Flanders. Parties were formed to guard the interests of the French-speakers, but equally important for political development was that the three traditional parties – the Christian-social (Catholics), the liberals and the socialists – gradually became divided along language lines in separate French- and Dutch-speaking parties.
In the years 1970-71, constitutional amendments were made which aimed to regulate the relations between the groups in relation to government power, while dividing the country into cultural regions. The requirements for self-government, however, remained. The 1977 Egmont Pact contained approaches in this direction, but conflicting interests of language groups and regions prevented the implementation of the original plans. However, this issue has remained topical, and in 1989 Parliament adopted a major constitutional amendment which gave regional parliaments and governments in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels very great powers except in foreign policy and defense.
Constitutional reform was approved by Parliament in 1993, and Belgium became a federal state. In the same year, Baudouin I died after 42 years as the country’s regent; he was succeeded by Brother Albert II. The division into regional parliaments and governments has not always been able to calm the emotions, especially as the Belgian central administration in the 1990s was shaken by several scandals. These have included corruption at the highest government level and revealed weaknesses in the judicial system, e.g. in connection with the assassination of socialist politician André Cools in 1991, an extensive pedophile rape in 1996 and a dioxin scandal in agriculture in 1999. Strong public opinion has called for radical changes in the country’s legal system. A modernization began in 1996.
Foreign policy Belgium, after the war, has been heavily involved in Western and European cooperation, except in close economic cooperation with the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux). In 1949, Belgium joined NATO, and in 1957 it was one of the original signatories to the Treaty of Rome on a common European market. The country has continued to play an active role within the EC. Belgium was one of the 12 EC states that signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. As the center of EU administration, Brussels has emerged claiming to be the capital of the new Europe.
- Follow abbreviationfinder to see what is the meaning of BE in geography. It can stand for Belgium. Click this site to see other possible meanings of this acronym.
Attacks on civil society
On March 22, 2016, two terrorist attacks were carried out in Brussels. The first attack took place at Zaventem Airport and the second near the Maelbeek metro station, which is adjacent to the EU institutions. Several people were injured and killed in the death.